The Paladin's Lady Partner (Part 7)
Sadie sipped her coffee before speaking. Being the sole focus of three large men was disconcerting although she drew some comfort from the warmth of Elliott's arm wrapped around her shoulders. Finally, she managed to get started on her story.
"I've already told two of you that I never expected to inherit old Mick Boxer's lead mine. First I heard tell of it was when I got a letter from Mick's lawyer, Ike Schmidt. He said Mick originally planned to leave it to my grandfather, not me. He and my grandfather were friends from the time they first moved to this area, but I hadn't even seen the man since Grandpa died."
She paused to take another drink. "Anyway, I went to town to meet with Mr. Schmidt to change the title over to me. That's when he told me that a man named Sylvester Putnam had offered to buy the mine, but Mick had turned the offer down flat."
Jethro leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. "Did this attorney think it had been a fair offer?"
"I'm sure he did. He said Mick was just being his usual stubborn self." She frowned. "In fact, Mr. Schmidt had already drawn up the paperwork in case if I wanted to accept Mr. Putnam's offer right then and there."
Elliott gave her shoulder a soft squeeze. "Why didn't you?"
"Before I made any kind of decision, I wanted to talk to Dean Riley first. Evidently, he'd been running the mine once Mick's rheumatism got too bad for him to do the heavy work. I also wanted to see the books for the company to get a better idea of what the thing was worth."
Both of the Paladins turned their attention to Mack. He nodded and started talking. "When Sadie here told me about the attack on her, I rode out to the scene with her and the undertaker. We hauled the bodies,"—he paused to offer Elliott a small smile—"except for yours, of course, back to town. Then I went to talk to Ike Schmidt myself. He blustered a bit, but he finally admitted that he had tried to convince Sadie here to take Putnam's offer. He swore that's all he did, but I'm thinking I need to have another talk with him."
This time Mack's smile had nothing to do with anything pleasant. "I'm guessing he's also the one who let Putnam know that she wasn't jumping at the chance to sell the mine."
Sadie could feel the tension building in Elliott. His voice was little better than a deep growl when he spoke. "That would explain why those men attacked her so soon after she left his office."
"I've got a question, Sadie." Jethro's green eyes were rock hard when he looked at her. "If something had happened to you, who would be your heir?"
Another good question. "I never much thought about it, but I don't really have one. For sure, I don't have any kin that I know of. My grandfather never mentioned any other family. He moved here from Ohio after his first wife died of the cholera. He and my grandmother only had one child, my father. My mother died in childbirth when I was about five, and we lost Pa about ten years back."
Jethro nodded, as if her explanation confirmed whatever he was thinking. "So, Mack, if she'd died yesterday, I'm guessing both the farm and the mine would be put up for sale. This Putnam fellow could buy either one or both for next to nothing."
Sadie shivered at the memory of how scared she'd been from the moment those killers had appeared yesterday. If it hadn't been for Elliott, the scenario Jethro had just described would have easily come to pass.
Elliott got up to pour himself another cup of coffee. She missed his warmth surrounding her. He brought the pot back to the table and topped off everyone's cup before resuming his seat next to her. "According to what Sadie told me, the details of Mick's death are a bit murky, too. He was found dead on the road with his horse standing beside him. With no witnesses, the lawman who investigated wrote it off to natural causes."
When Mack started to protest, Elliott cut him off. "I'm not questioning the lawman's honesty. He did the best with what he had to work with. I'm just saying that it seems pretty damn interesting that Mick died when he wouldn't sell, and then someone tried to kill Sadie when she wouldn't immediately sign over the mine to Putnam."
A heavy silence settled in the room, the three men staring at each other, their expressions grim with a heavy dollop of anger added in. When she couldn't stand it any longer, she asked the tough question. "So what do we do now?"
Elliott hated the quiver of fear in Sadie's voice. Any woman living out here alone would be vulnerable, and this whole thing with the mine only made it doubly true so for her. She'd already been through so much, and things weren't going to get any less dangerous until they figured out a way to take the target off her back.
As usual Jethro's temper was riding close to the surface. He pounded his big fist down on the table hard enough to slop coffee out of his cup. "I say we go have a talk with this Mr. Putnam and put an end to his interest in the mine. A permanent one."
That suggestion had Mack sitting up straight. "Listen here, Bane. We will see that Sadie is safe, but we'll do it legally. I won't have you or Elliott here taking justice in your own hands. Someone with your special nature can't afford to end up behind bars, but that's right where you'll be if I find out that you've gone gunning for Putnam on your own. If the man's behind the attack on Sadie, I will see to it that he pays for his crime."
Elliott snorted. "You really think he was stupid enough to get his own hands dirty? I'm betting he made damn sure whoever paid those men to come after her never mentioned his name to them."
"That might be, but I will get to the bottom of this."
The man might mean every word he said. That didn't guarantee his efforts would succeed. "I want to come with you when you talk to Putnam. I also think we need to double back and have another discussion with Ike Schmidt. While we're there, we'll tell him that Sadie has found a new buyer for the mine."
She turned to look up at him, her blue eyes clouded in confusion. "I did? Who?"
He smiled at her. "That would be me."
Then he pulled a five-dollar gold piece out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Hope that's enough of a down payment. I'll have to send a wire to get the rest."
Clearly confused at first, Sadie stared at the money in her hand for a long time before finally folding her fingers around the coin. "You're thinking that if I sell you the mine, whoever is behind the attack will come after you instead."
Mack joined the conversation. "Actually, that's not a bad idea. It would buy me some time to figure out what the hell's going on."
Then she shook her head and tried to give it back. "No, Elliott, you've already died in my place once. I won't let you do it again."
Jethro crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair with a slight smile on his face. No doubt the other Paladin enjoyed watching Elliott struggling to deal with a woman determined to protect him from himself. Looking back, maybe Elliott shouldn't have laughed when Patience put Jethro through his paces right after the couple first met.
From the stubborn set of her jaw, he knew Sadie would dig in her heels if he didn't choose his next words carefully. "Sadie, let's go for a walk and talk about this."
Because if he had to stoop to begging her to let him do this for her, he would. That didn't mean he wanted to do so in front of the sheriff or Jethro. Yeah, his friend would understand what was driving Elliott. After all, Jethro had faced off against an overwhelming enemy force by himself to buy enough time for Elliott to get Patience to safety.
At least Sadie didn't argue. Out on the porch, he took her hand in his, needing that small connection between them. All things considered, they probably shouldn't go far from the house. If the bastard gunning for Sadie had been able to hire one bunch of shooters to do his dirty work for him, there was no reason to think he wouldn't hire a second.
With that in mind, Elliott guided their footsteps toward the barn where they'd be far enough from the house to keep Jethro using his superior hearing to listen in.
As soon as they reached the corral fence, Elliott's mare came trotting across to hang her head over the top rail, no doubt hoping for a treat. He laughed and pulled a small piece of sugar from his pocket that he'd pilfered from Sadie's kitchen. The big bay lipped it up off the palm of his hand.
"I swear I've never known another horse with a bigger sweet tooth than she has. I admit that I've spoiled her, but she's worth it." He stroked the mare's nose. "If you don't believe me, just ask her."
Sadie gave the mare a good scratching. "Well, she's not just pretty; she has heart. Even with all those bullets flying, she risked everything to get me away safely."
Elliott pulled out a second bit of sugar. "She's gotten me out of more than one tough spot since I've owned her."
"Are you telling me that people have a habit of shooting at you?"
If she'd smiled as she asked the question, he might have come up with a witty answer. But she didn't, so he gave her the truth. "Not really. More often than not, they come after me with swords."
He sighed and stared up at the sky overhead. "I won't lie to you, Sadie. What I do is dangerous, but that makes it all the more necessary. It's the same for Jethro. He spends as much time as he can on the farm he and Patience own, but he spends just as much time protecting our world from the crazies who would slaughter every human they could find if we didn't stop them in their tracks. We both believe in what we do. We wouldn't walk away even if we could."
He turned to face her more directly. "I know you don't like the idea of me stepping in front of you while we get this mine thing figured out, but that's what I do. I was born to protect people, and that includes you. That's who I am, so please don't fight me on this. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do everything possible to keep you safe."
She swallowed hard. "I know, and I won't fight you, Elliott. But you can't blame me for not wanting to see you hurt…or dead…not again. I hated it when I didn't really know you at all. Now that I...well, now that I care so much, I'm not sure I could stand it."
When he held out his arms, she didn't hesitate. He kept his hold on her gentle, but she clamped her arms around him as if she might never let go. When was the last time someone held him with such fierceness? Maybe never.
"When this is over with, Elliott, will I ever see you again? Because I'm telling you right now, I'm not sure I could bear the thought of you disappearing from my life as fast as you appeared."
Even if he didn't say a word, she had to hear the way his heart started pounding. Again, he owed her the truth. "I don't want to disappear, but it might be better for you in the long run if I did. A woman has to be mighty strong to put up with the life I lead even just as a friend."
There. He'd given her an easy out. Hopefully she'd take it and walk away—better yet, run. Because if she hesitated at all, he was going to do everything in his power to convince Sadie to let him be part of her life.
"I don't want to be friends with you, Elliott."
He'd been stabbed with swords that hurt less than those few words. Before he could react, though, Sadie reached up to tug his face down closer to hers. "I want so much more than that from you."
Then she kissed him. If he'd had any doubts that she meant what she'd said, the heat in that kiss sent them up in smoke. He lifted her high against his chest and hoped like hell that she could tell he felt the same way about her. His conscience told him that she deserved the words to make sure there was no room for doubt. They might have only known each other for a short time, but holding her in his arms made him complete in a way he'd never felt before.
He broke off the kiss. "Sadie, sweetheart, I hope you mean that because I—"
Before he could finish, a hailstorm of bullets came flying their way.